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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 August 2007, 05:36 GMT 06:36 UK
On the trail of a wartime hero
Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Ned Callander's former home
The house in Friars Vennel where Ned Callander grew up

There is no plaque on the wall outside the premises at 52 Friars Vennel in Dumfries.

Sandwiched between a Chinese takeaway and a fishing tackle store it hardly has the aura of historical importance.

Yet it was from that doorway that a "mischievous" young man emerged who would go on to receive the Croix de Guerre from France and Britain's Distinguished Flying Medal.

Now a retired journalist and author from Whitehaven hopes to take the story of Edward "Ned" Callander to a wider audience.

Richard Frost was asked by a relative of the Dumfries boy to try to piece together the life story of his great-uncle in order to turn it into a book.

The writer returned to the town this week in an effort to track down more people who might be able to shed light on the actions of Ned Callander.

It is certainly a tale with enough adventure and intrigue to retain the reader's interest.

Seriously traumatised

Edward Callander was born in Dumfries in 1917.

He was just a year old when his mother was taken to the Crichton Mental Hospital where she would remain until her death decades later.

Ned Callander
Ned Callander (second from right) was a "mischievous" boy

His father returned seriously traumatised from active service with the KOSB in the Dardanelles during World War I.

Still, he managed to raise the young Ned and his elder brother and sister largely thanks to the assistance of their aunt.

"He seems to have been quite a mischievous boy," said Mr Frost.

"There is a story that he pinched the insurance man's bicycle and went for a ride on it.

"If something happened, it was always Ned that had done it."

By the 1930s, however, the young Doonhamer had set off for London in search of work.

Allied victory

It was there he made a decision which would change the course of his life.

"In 1936 he went to France for a trip and never came back," explained Mr Frost.

"He signed up for the Foreign Legion."

Ned Callander
The Dumfries man escaped from prison on three occasions

It was as a Legionnaire that he was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his part in the Battle of Narvik in 1940 - one of the first allied land victories of World War II.

However, when France was routed he was shipped back to Britain where he became a rear gunner with the Royal Air Force.

He flew about 50 operations - including the bombing of Brest for which he received the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Later, however, while returning from a failed raid on Stuttgart he was shot down and taken prisoner in Stalag Luft 3.

He escaped no fewer than three times - once after hiding in a water tank for 56 hours.

But it was his final escape which was to prove fatal.

Mr Frost has tracked down reports of Ned and a fellow escapee being traced by the Gestapo in Danzig in 1944.

He believes that it was there that he was captured once more and taken away and shot as a spy.

It was a tragic and dramatic conclusion to the life started just 27 years before in the quiet streets of a market town in south west Scotland.


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